Augustus Desiré Waller

Augustus Desiré Waller (1856 – 1922)

Augustus Desiré Waller (1856 – 1922) was an British physiologist.

Physiology dominated Waller’s life. He had a home laboratory where his wife Alice Palmer (biscuit heiress of Huntley and Palmer) and 5 children participated and dog Jimmie took part in his experiments. His daughter Mary remembered packing for a trip and her mother asking the children what things they wanted to take, adding ‘but don’t forget, Father has bagged the galvanometer‘.

In 1887 he used a Lippmann’s capillary electrometer…and a toy train,to record the first human electrocardiogram (ECG)

1891 proposed the expression for normal systolic duration, which Henry Cuthbert Bazett converted into the Bazett Formula for the measurement of QTc in 1920

  • Born July 18, 1856 in Paris, France
  • 1881 – MD, Aberdeen University
  • 1883 – Lecturer in physiology at the School of Medicine for Women, London
  • 1884 – Lecturer in physiology at St Mary’s Hospital
  • 1897 – Fullerian Professor of Physiology
  • Died March 11, 1922

Key Medical Attributions

1887 – Waller used a capillary electrometer to record the first human electrocardiogram. Surface electrodes were strapped to the front and back of the chest producing two distorted deflections: ventricular depolarization and repolarization. He attached his equipment to a slowly moving toy train, allowing him to record the heart’s activity in real time.

In an informal address at St Mary’s in 1915, Waller reminisced about his pioneer work.

I studied the hearts of all sorts of animals…and one fine day after leading off from the exposed heart of a decapitated cat to study the cardiogram by aid of a Lippman electrometer, it occurred to me that it ought to be possible to use the limbs as electrodes and thus lead off from the heart to the electrometer without exposing the heart, i.e. from the intact and normal organ. Obviously man was the most convenient animal to use so I dipped my right hand and left foot into a couple of basins of salt solution, which were connected with the two poles of the electrometer and at once had the pleasure of seeing the mercury column pulsate with the pulsation of the heart….

This first demonstration was made in St Mary’s laboratory in May 1887 and demonstrated there to many physiologists and among others, to my friend Professor Einthoven of Leiden…During the summer of that year, I made a complete survey of all sorts of leads from the hands and feet and mouth!’

Waller AD. Unpublished address at St Mary’s 1915 (personal communication from Mary Waller to Edwin Besterman, 1951).
Waller 1887 first ECG in human

Waller often demonstrated the electrogram using his dog “Jimmy” who would patiently stand with paws in glass jars of saline

Augustus Waller and Jimmy the dog

1891 – Waller provided a series of values for the duration of mechanical systole with different heart rates. He demonstrated that the period of mechanical contraction (systole) was shortened at faster heart rates. See Fridericia Formula 1920

Interesting facts

AD Waller was the son of Augustus Volnay Waller (1816–1870). AV Waller is remembered for:

  • Diapedesis: His thesis involved examination of the frog’s tongue micro-circulation. Waller observed white blood cells (but not red ones) could squeeze between capillary cells.
  • Wallerian degeneration of the nerves: Sections of frog’s tongue to show nerves produced ‘necklaces of droplets‘ (degenerating myelin) on one side of the cut – an indication of the direction in which the nerve normally conducted.

Major Publications



Eponymous terms

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the person behind the name

Emergency physician MA (Oxon) MBChB (Edin) FACEM FFSEM with a passion for rugby; medical history; medical education; and informatics. Asynchronous learning #FOAMed evangelist. Co-founder and CTO of Life in the Fast lane | Eponyms | Books | vocortex |

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